T-Mobile announced layoffs of 1,900 call centre workers yesterday, and AT&T is using the sad news to give a Bronx cheer to the regulators who blocked it from buying T-Mobile last year.In a statement, AT&T said that it had promised to keep those call centres open, but the FCC didn’t believe them.
So by AT&T’s reasoning, the FCC is directly to blame for the layoffs: “But for the government’s decision, centres now being closed would be staying open, workers now facing layoffs would have job guarantees, and communities facing turmoil would have security.”
Regulators believed that combining two of the four big wireless carriers in the U.S. would result in less competition and higher prices for consumers. But it’s hard to see how choosing from three giant wireless companies rather than two would’ve had much effect.
Here’s the full statement.
Yesterday, T-Mobile made the sad announcement that it would be closing seven call centres, laying off thousands of workers, and that more layoff announcements may follow. Normally, we’d not comment on something like this. But I feel this is an exception for one big reason– only a few months ago AT&T promised to preserve these very same call centres and jobs if our merger was approved. We also predicted that if the merger failed, T-Mobile would be forced into major layoffs.
At that time, the current FCC not only rejected our pledges and predictions, they also questioned our credibility. The FCC argued that the merger would cost jobs, not preserve them, and that rejecting it would save jobs. In short, the FCC said they were right, we were wrong, and did so in an aggressive and adamant way.
Rarely are a regulatory agency’s predictive judgments proven so wrong so fast. But for the government’s decision, centres now being closed would be staying open, workers now facing layoffs would have job guarantees, and communities facing turmoil would have security. Only a few months later, the truth of who was right is sadly obvious.
So what’s the lesson here? For one thing, it’s a reminder of why “regulatory humility” should be more than a slogan. The FCC may consider itself an expert agency on telecom, but it is not omniscient. And when it ventures far afield from technical issues, and into judgments about employment or predictions about business decisions, it has often been wildly wrong. The other lesson is even more important, and should be sobering. It is a reminder that in government, as in life, decisions have consequences. One must approach them not as an exercise of power but instead of responsibility, because, as I learned in my years of public service, the price of a bad decision is too often paid by someone else.
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